Yes, It’s Still a Wonderful Movie | National Review

Yes, It’s Still a Wonderful Movie | National Review

It’s a Wonderful Life (Paramount Pictures/Trailer image via YouTube)

It’s Christmas weekend, which means that lots of people are probably watching Frank Capra’s 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life. And they are right to. To describe the Jimmy Stewart–starring film as a “Christmas movie” is technically accurate, but feels incomplete; it is also a celebration of life, community, rootedness, family, and, I would argue, the American spirit. Last year, I explained its greatness at length for National Review.

I did so largely in response to the film’s various critics, who for various reasons reject the film’s claim to greatness. Of these, none is more pernicious than University of Notre Dame political-theory professor Patrick Deneen, who many years ago made the bizarre, factually challenged case that George Bailey, Stewart’s character, the pillar of his upstate New York hometown of Bedford Falls, is actually a villain, a bringer of the modern ills that will soon poison his community.

Fortunately, Deneen’s argument is being recognized more and more as nonsense. This year, First Things has itself published a warm, personal reflection on the film, written by Bethel McGrew. And at The American Conservative, Carmel Richardson, a talented young Hillsdale alumna (go Chargers!), has also dissented from Deneen’s denigration of Capra’s masterpiece. A sample:

This is the heart of localism that is lost in the very impersonal world that George himself longs to see, when he plans to “shake the dust of this crummy little town off his feet and see the world.” But as he is forced into the hero role by each new turn of events, against his own will and against his modernist desires, he learns what he may never have discovered had he left home. George discovers that his greatest impact, his greatest adventure, and his greatest joy are right there in Bedford Falls. It’s A Wonderful Life does more than just say “every man’s life has value, even if you only stay in your hometown”; it goes a step further and says “every man’s influence is greatest, and most valuable, in his hometown.” The best way to change the world is by doing exactly what George, and many of us, least want and most need to do.

Indeed. It is heartening to see appreciation for It’s a Wonderful Life extend into a new generation, and for the young to reject the stale, contrived, fallacious contrarianism of one of their elders on this matter.

In a forthcoming issue of National Review, I hope to add to our cultural appreciation for It’s a Wonderful Life with an extended dispatch of my time at the 2021 It’s a Wonderful Life Festival, held in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Without spoiling my piece too much, I can say that what I experienced there only deepened my affection for the film and for its message. Both are worth remembering on Christmas — but also year-round.

Jack Butler is submissions editor at National Review Online.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.